It is a common belief that DBT is best suited for the individual who is struggling with emotion regulation (helps with fast, intense mood changes with little control), interpersonal effectiveness (skills in maintaining steady relationships and getting what you want), distress tolerance (troubles with impulsivity), mindfulness skills (increasing awareness and focus), and walking the middle path (teen and family challenges focus). On the contrary, it is a true gift for the family system when parents and children participate in learning the skills together within the multi-family group. As humans, we don’t live in a vacuum. All transactions and environments that surround us affect our mental state and skill set each moment to moment. Wouldn’t it be lovely for the whole family to learn all the goodness DBT has to offer in order for the skills to be generalized within the home? The multi-family group is a way to build a family system of individuals using skillful means to get their needs met and build relationships worth cherishing.
Not only are the skills learned a way to improve the overall togetherness of the family, they will also enhance how you interact with co-workers, friends, loved ones, and most importantly, with yourself. This is due to the foundation of the multi-family group being built upon seven assumptions:
1. People are doing the best they can.
Frequently, it is the “shoulds” and “not fair” thinking that causes us to become upset about a situation. Rarely, there is nothing wrong with the situation itself, it is our interpretations and expectations of the situation that tends to leave us feeling upset or disappointed.
2. People want to improve.
How much more compassion would we have for ourselves and others if we have the belief that everyone wants to improve and are trying to the best of their abilities at the time? Maintaining this belief decreases disappointment and increases compassion and empathy.
3. People need to do better, try harder, and be more motivated to change.
Yes, people are doing the best they can and want to improve while also having to do the work to do better. Change occurs when we are aware of our emotions and behaviors, while also implementing more effective skills for a different outcome.
4. People may not have caused all of our own problems, but they need to solve them anyway.
A lot of situations, that are less than ideal, may be a result of other people’s behaviors. That is not your fault AND it is your responsibility to make the changes necessary and do what needs to be done to fix the problem.
5. New behavior has to be learned in all relevant contexts.
Any skill or knowledge learned only generalizes into your everyday life if it is practiced outside of therapy. Implementing awareness, skills, and new thought processes in real time leads to change in all facets of your life.
6. All behaviors (actions, thoughts, emotions) are caused.
7. Figuring out and changing the causes of behavior work better than judging and blaming.
We frequently use the saying in DBT, “It may not be your fault that certain things have happened to you, and it is your responsibility to fix them.” Blaming and judging leaves us stuck in a place of anger, resentment, and disappointment. In order to move into a place of ease, we need to take responsibility for the part we play and take the steps to move forward.
DBT multi-family group is more than learning a set of skills. It also provides opportunities for parents to gain from therapists modeling skillful ways to validate teens’ experiences and reinforce appropriate behaviors. The DBT framework challenges us to take on assumptions that allow for more understanding and compassion for ourselves and the people who surround us throughout life. DBT multi-family group does not eliminate all of life’s stressors, and it provide us with the foundation and toolset needed to manage life in a more effective and less painful manner.